The group experience is an ideal forum for psycho-educational learning. We are social beings, and a group situation allows opportunities to improve social skills, learn from others, practice skills with others, develop confidence and improve self-esteem by mastering important life skills in a social context. Group activities provide the forum for skill building in a supportive environment to practice skills and get feedback and support. The group setting is not only an ideal forum for learning social skills, it is also a powerful backdrop for personal self-discovery and growth. Ironically, personal growth and self-discovery is so often best achieved not in isolation, but rather through relationships and support.

There are certain characteristics that are vital in leading a group session that has a life skills focus, which is the focus of most therapeutic groups. Whether your group is school based, in-patient, out-patient, substance abuse related, or correctional, having hands on practical resources such as worksheets and handouts will help educate group members and provide practice opportunities to work on skills between sessions. The importance of homework and psycho-educational learning is relevant to most major therapeutic orientations. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), rely heavily on teaching and educating as part of treatment.

Aside from giving and reviewing between session homework using handouts and worksheets, there are other elements of an effective group to consider in your planning. Here is a list of some important elements to remember:

  • Use psycho-educational activities in almost every session.
  • Start each session with a mood check.
  • Clarify goals at the start of each session.
  • Use props and experiential activities in your session.
  • Use self-help assignments between sessions for encouraging practice.
  • End each session with a feedback check.
  • Use role-play variations often for skill building to improve communication and thinking skills.
  • Use quizzes and handouts in and between sessions to practice skills learned.
  • Have a mixture of individual, small group and large group activities to make the learning dynamic and experiential in a variety of ways.

For more important reminders, here is a clinician handout including a checklist that will be helpful in leading any group that includes life skills learning.

As a group therapist, to harness the potential of opportunities that groups offer, this psycho-educational group checklist with an emphasis on using handouts and worksheets to practice within and between sessions, will help you offer life skills to group members that will last a lifetime.